Si Shen is the CEO and founder of Papaya Mobile, an open mobile social network for Android.
In China, breakfast is usually eaten on the run, and one of the most popular option is a bao zi or steamed bun.
Steamed buns are simple, cheap things - just a little bit of steamed flour filled with meat and veg - but they are very popular.
On every street corner, in every Chinese city from Shanghai to Suzhou, hundreds of millions of people gobble bao zi for breakfast.
And what we eat in China for breakfast has something in common with social games...
Bun shop whales
Last month, Papaya released an infographic that dug deep into the spending habits of whales on our social network.
We define whales as users who spend $100 or more. It turns out that while whales only account for 4 percent of our user base, they generate 60 percent of our total revenue. In other words, whales are really cash cows.
Now the local steamed bun shop also has its share of whales. Some people eat bao zi every morning for breakfast. Every morning the 'bun shop whales' stop by their local street vendor or restaurant and gobble, gobble, gobble.
Whales are incredibly important to a small business like a bao zi shop because they provide three necessary functions: they're a steady and dependable revenue stream; they're unpaid brand advocates; and they're an accurate barometer for the business.
The first point - that whales make you a lot of money - is fairly self-evident, but small business owners know it's imperative to build and maintain relationships with their best customers for the long haul. When you hook a whale, you need to keep them on the line as long as possible. Keep your whales happy!
Money-making aside, whales are important because they are brand advocates or ambassadors.
Every time a whale says something like, "You should really try so and so's whatsit," your whales are generating new customers and driving traffic to your shop. Real people are eminently more believable than paid-for marketing.
If a co-worker tells me to try something because it's good, chances are I'm going to try it.
Whales are also an essential source of information about your product. Want to know if that new bun has the right mix of carrots and pork? Ask. Whales are heavily invested in your product because they like it.
Communicate with them to figure out what you're doing great and not-so-great. The insights you dig out can help you make your game or business better.
If you're developing or running a social game, it's essential that you understand your customer base.
Since you're probably using a freemium model built around virtual goods transactions, your business isn't really that different than a Chinese breakfast nook.
You depend on customers to be engaged with your game and you sell them things they want.
Take the time to research and reach out to your whales. Your game will benefit from increased understanding of why users buy virtual goods and empower the best advertising and promotion available: loyal users testifying to their friends.
For more of PapayaMobile's musings check out: china2valley.com